I took most of the week off from work. It was vacation time scheduled to coincide with last week’s wedding, and I was expecting to be in the UK in the midst of summer. Maybe I would have had a crappy Carling and a Pot Noodle for old time’s sake.
Instead I spent about three whole days roaming the plains and beaches of 13th-century Japan in Ghost of Tsushima. It’s pretty much Red Dead Redemption meets Assassin’s Creed in a new setting. It’s been years since I sat down in front of the TV and played a game for hours until my hands felt stiff and the controller’s battery needed topping up. I’d normally consider that an achievement of leisure but it felt kind of empty. By the fourth day, I realized this and put it away to get some reading done instead.
Theory: video games are a great way to pass time quickly, but a lousy way to make use of treasured and valuable time. If I was in jail, I’d love to have my PS4. But if I’m using up the rest of my leave for the year, and want the hours to last and feel meaningful? A stack of books, no question. So much time just evaporates while you’re riding your horse from point A to B, or completing templated side quests to help someone find their lost sister or whatever. It’s not like watching a film; many moments are completely disposable. I still love the virtual tourism of exploring a new world (and maybe VR would make all the difference here), but maybe I did too much of it all at once.
As soon as I switched gears to reading, it’s like time slowed down, and the experiential resolution went past anything 4K or 8K graphics are capable of. The signal to noise ratio was just not comparable. So that’s my advice to all the other old lapsed gamers clearing vacation time in a pandemic: leave the game marathons to when you go on sabbatical. They’re just empty calories. One exception comes to mind: when I played 140 or so hours of Animal Crossing at the start of the lockdown, it didn’t feel wasted. Maybe because it was more “creative” and I was putting my own island together. In contrast, triple-A open-world games just feel like coloring books for adults?
I also visited friends who’ve moved back to Singapore and found themselves a lovely new apartment, and the night ended with everyone playing Overcooked 2 (admittedly my first time), which was so much fun that I came home and bought the first installment for my Switch. “Get the divorce papers ready”, they said. That’s definitely something games have over books.
The first two above are thematically linked, and highly recommended. The first one builds a world where time travel just exists (and in a wonderfully weird and unexpected way), and the second finds a clever opening for approaching said time travel, but achieves an epic payoff that must surely have gotten it optioned for a film adaptation by now. After reading Recursion, I don’t have much anticipation left for Tenet because it’s not going to be in the same class. No way. I’ll probably follow them up next weekend with This Is How You Lose the Time War by Amal El-Mohtar.
We had a wedding in the family this week, which was planned to be in the UK, before things got unusual, and so took place in the local Botanic Gardens instead. Permits were obtained, numbers were restricted, and everyone wore face masks for most of it, but apart from that it was very nice.
I brought my D-Lux 7 along and got some workable shots. I love that it has that old Panasonic trick of natively changing aspect ratios from the sensor instead of cropping, for when you need a wider angle. The alternative was the CL with 18–55mm Vario-Elmar which would have been useless in the evening (f3.5 and no IBIS). But by the time we were having drinks on a rooftop, the only camera that could reliably see anything was the iPhone 11 with its Night Mode.
The weather service says we’re in for storms and 22ºC nights in the days to come, which is highly unusual here in Singapore. Standing out in the fading sun at the wedding after 5pm was a rather sweaty affair, to say nothing of being out at noon. I think the average nighttime temperature must be around 28–30ºC, so I’m looking forward to seeing this.
Segue to things I’ve seen: the Snowpiercer TV series on Netflix. Am not a fan of any Bong Joon-Ho film I’ve seen apart from Parasite, so have not been keen to put the film on my list, but am slightly curious now that I’m done with the TV adaptation. It was not a complete waste of time. Fully expecting to be hit over the head with Themes will make it easier to go in, I suppose.
Better things I can actually recommend: John Schlesinger’s Marathon Man (1976) starring Dustin Hoffman, Laurence Olivier, and Roy Scheider. It’s even on Singapore’s Netflix so it must be widely available everywhere else. I’ve seen snatches of this on random late-night TV screens over the years, but never the whole thing. They don’t make them like this anymore — it’s generous with scenes and shots that exist just for world and character building, and you’d never say it needed tightening.
Aaron Schneider’s Greyhound (2020) starring Tom Hanks is worth whatever Apple TV paid for it. I read an interview where Hanks said he was upset that the film wouldn’t get a theatrical release because it needed to be seen on a big screen. We saw it last night with the lights down, virtual surround sound bar cranked up, LCD backlight at maximum, and it was a thrill. Don’t see this one on your iPad.
Patrick Vollrath’s 7500 (2019) starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt is a gem of a hijack movie on Amazon Prime Video that’s practically a play. I know a couple of aviation nuts who’d love its opening minutes, devoted to the pilot and co-pilot’s pre-flight routine of checking meters and flipping switches amidst small talk. It’s a rarely seen moment on screen, rendered with a lavish amount of mundane detail and realism that sets the tone for a film that takes place almost entirely in the cockpit.
7500 got me looking for more quiet-but-intense films set at night or in relative darkness, because they’re perfect for watching in bed. I also quite enjoyed Into The Night, which makes me think maybe I just want more films set on planes? Anyway, this eventually led me to a subgenre of YouTube mood videos not unlike lofi hip hop radio – beats to relax/study to, but a blend of rain sounds, faint jazz BGM, and cafe noises. Check this one out.
I bought Ghost of Tsushima because I couldn’t resist a graphically gorgeous open-world game set in feudal Japan, Western gaze or not. One of my long-time wishes for the Assassin’s Creed series was for them to do a Japanese edition, but they arguably waited too long and now no one cares. This also marks the first time in at least six months that I’m turning my PS4 Pro on. The Switch can’t compete on looks, but not having to commit to significant time in front of the TV means a lot.
I was wondering what book to read after Cryptonomicon and fell back into the easy, brainless comfort of another Jack Reacher novel by Lee Child. This time it was #16, The Affair. It stands out for being a prequel to all the others, written in the first person. Now that I’m done, I think my next book will be some kind of SF.
We have a baker across the street who does pricy (and good) pies, tarts, cakes, and various breads out of his little shop. And since we’re home 99% of the time now, I’ve been trying to buy more things from the neighborhood, hyperlocal spending and all that. The bakery especially, since they don’t sell on delivery services. That said, my mother is in the habit of making the 20-minute trip to buy their quiches (not to see me!) This week I started buying big slices of cake as after-dinner treats. No danger of the pandemic weight gain reversing soon.
Yesterday was polling day in the local elections, and we were given an afternoon window of about two hours to show up, line up, have our temperatures taken, IDs scanned, and our votes cast. There were bottlenecks in the morning, and stories of old people struggling to put on mandatory plastic gloves after having their hands sprayed with alcohol — how nobody in the Elections Department tested this and realized it would be impossible to do quickly, I don’t know. By noon, the gloves were optional. By the time we voted, the entire process was over in 60 seconds and we were headed home.
I caved and installed the first(!) public beta for iOS 14 on my primary phone, which I use for both work and personal purposes. I filed an Apple Music bug within the first 30 minutes, and noticed a few other issues like how the OS think it’s using 90GB of free space for “Other” temp files. According to Reddit, this is widespread but doesn’t actually mean my phone is full, so, okay. It’s surprisingly stable otherwise.
The way I organize my home screens has evolved over the years, particularly after folders were added, but it’s been simple: the first page is for apps I’m likely to need often, the second page is for all my camera and photo-editing apps, and the third is for games. The fourth is where junk goes. Now that there are large widgets vying for real estate (the Files widget can take up the room of 16 icons!), and an App Library where you’re meant to keep all but the most immediately needed icons, I’m having to rethink the whole approach and get comfortable with a totally different model. Of course, no one is forcing me to use widgets or change my ways, but I’ll take the opportunity to maintain some neuroplasticity.
A friend told me last year about services that let you gain interest on your cryptocurrency holdings, but they were small UK companies and I didn’t particularly feel like going through the trouble at the time. The premise is sensible though, if not free of risk. If you’re going to be holding currency in any form, you don’t want it stagnating and not earning interest of some sort. These companies will loan out your capital to others, and in return you get interest rates ranging from 4–8% per annum. Which is stunning compared to any traditional savings account, and makes one wonder how high the risk is. But if you’ve got money in crypto to begin with, what’s a little more risk? It seems this has now become a “mainstream” offering at several exchanges and so I’ve decided to give it a go with what little I have. Perhaps I’ll regret it.
I’m pinching an idea from Michael Camilleri’s blog: what he calls Weeknotes. I like how the bullet format keeps things simple while the weekly cadence provides a structure that will hopefully mean I update more.
There was some mild pain and inconvenience this week dealing with Apple over the phone for an iCloud Drive issue. My free space was 13GB less than what it was supposed to be. It’s sorted now and I wrote about it here, but little failures like this make it hard to rely on iCloud and move away from Dropbox and Google Drive.
I was reading a lot a couple of weeks ago when I was on vacation (at home). I think I finished 9 novels in three weeks, including 1Q84 which comes close to about a thousand pages. Then I went back to work and simultaneously started on the massive Cryptonomicon, the combined effect of which has put the brakes on my Goodreads progress. Maybe because the last few things I read were mindless Jack Reacher novels, this one was an exhilarating change of pace. I’m still astonished a mere human being sat down and created something this wild, violent, complex, and also funny. I finally finished it this weekend and can’t imagine what to follow it with.
I’ve written too much about HEY already, but you know you’re all-in on a new email address when you change your main daily logins and usernames over to it. That’s now been done.
On the subject of email, my mom was cleaning up around the house and found some I’d sent her 20 years ago. How? She’d printed them out and kept them in a folder! She gets the last laugh, though. Not only did I forget even owning that old email address, I think all that pre-Gmail history is just gone; I don’t have any record of mails sent or received. If I had to guess, I used a hosted POP/IMAP server and a local mail client (maybe Eudora? Thunderbird?), so it was first lost during the move to Gmail — I don’t believe importing from elsewhere was supported, and I guess I’m fragmenting my email history again now by moving to HEY — and then totally lost during a PC transition. How do we still not have a universal personal data vault solution?
Unsplash gets photographers to give their work away for exposure — a deal that never goes out of style in the creative industry. But so many have volunteered to do it that the site is now a very useful resource for people looking for free images. I often use it when I need photography for presentations, and I‘m familiar enough with some of the best photos to recognize them popping up in other people’s decks.
Since I haven’t sold any of my photos for money in quite awhile, and the idea of seeing otherwise unused photos appear someday in someone else’s deck seemed like fun, I’ve now become part of the problem. I trickled four photos in over six days, and they’ve already been viewed 3,000 times. I suppose I’ll keep going.
I switched mobile providers after a year and a half with Circles. I’m still amazed at how easy it is now, and how bad things were before. You just sign up online and someone shows up at your door the next day with a SIM card! Your number is automatically ported the day after! Used to be you had to go to a store and sign many papers and wait a week, and occasionally even call your old telco to break up with them. Not to mention contracts are out of fashion. Progress. Since working from home, I’ve barely used any mobile data since there’s WiFi. I’m sure it’s one reason why I was able to find a more generous deal on the market. They’re probably happy to hand out massive data allowances now that most people aren’t going to use them.
On Friday night we went to hang out with a friend who lives down the street, and her kids stayed up with us as an excuse to play more Animal Crossing Pocket Camp and Minecraft. It was nice to see them tapping around proficiently and being engrossed in designing worlds. Even at the age of six! Lego has its limits, and we couldn’t work with dream material in such a direct way when we were kids.
Season 2 of Hanna is out on Amazon Prime Video. Seems like this time it’s not just one coming of age story, it’s a genetically modified school of them. I saw the first two episodes last night and the fight scenes were so clumsy, it broke the elite assassins world-building for me.
It was the Chinese Dragon Boat Festival recently, but I prefer its other name, the Dumpling Festival, because come on, that’s really the part we all care about. I’ve always known these pyramid-shaped rice clumps as Bak Zhang/Chang, but I guess they’re also known as Zong Zi. They look awful but are mad good, and I can’t think of a taste reference point in the world so you’ll just have to try and get some. I spent nearly an hour on Tuesday trying to find a good delivery option while salivating wildly, and eventually managed to catch the Kim Choo Kueh Chang company’s online store in a good mood (if it’s down, try, try again).
What made the service so refreshing at the start was its dedication to art and quality, stickiness and engagement metrics be damned. You paid a subscription fee, and got access to a peaceful library of games that didn’t try to milk wallet-attached endorphins out of your brain. We got delightful little experiences like Assemble with Care and WHAT THE GOLF?, and I stuck around on the promise that we’d get a steady stream of those. Well, it seems that train has stopped because somebody upstairs wants more addictive games that will keep people subscribed past the free trial.
One example of what Apple wants, according to Bloomberg, is Grindstone. I personally love it; a fun pick-up-and-play puzzler, and an evergreen game you could easily be playing years from now. But not every game needs to be a Grindstone, and there’s only room for one or two Grindstones in my life at any time. These are games you use to soak up free time, go-to icons for when a moment appears while in line for something, or on the bus. There are plenty of them already on the App Store, so Apple Arcade should supply a breadth of other experiences.
I see the potential of Apple Arcade as analogous to the Apple TV+ strategy : quality over quantity, unique visions only. A change of course so soon comes across as a lack of courage. It’s a long game, so to speak. If people aren’t staying past the trial, maybe they’re not reaching enough of the right people who’ll be their early adopters. Even Airpods didn’t take off immediately.
Normally when a new service comes out, early adopters help keep it going till it gets really good. With something like Apple Arcade, you can wait and see; no rush. With identity-related things like HEY email, names are scarce/unique. More time pressure on users and devs both.